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Alexandria is short on bus drivers

As the beginning of the school year is nipping at the heels of District 206, a recurring problem emerges once again. Every fall and spring, the school district is faced with the issue of having a shortage of bus drivers. Between the 48 bus routes...

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HOW TO APPLY: Go to the District 206 website at www.alexandria.k12.mn.us and fill out the application under “Employment Opportunities.”

As the beginning of the school year is nipping at the heels of District 206, a recurring problem emerges once again.

Every fall and spring, the school district is faced with the issue of having a shortage of bus drivers. Between the 48 bus routes and the influx in school activities, it’s never an easy task making sure they have enough manpower to cover it all.
At the beginning of the school year in the fall, there are issues in finding drivers and getting them trained in.
“What makes it difficult is that they are split positions,” said Judy Backhaus, the human resources director of District 206. “They only work four to five hours a day and don’t qualify for benefits, so we get a lot of retired people.”
Backhaus believes that it’s hard to find people willing to take this kind of position. The first part of the shift starts at about 5:30 a.m. and runs until students are dropped off at the schools. The drivers are then required to return after school dismissal to pick the students up and bring them home, which can take until 4:30 p.m or later.
Another contributing factor to the shortage of drivers may also be the oil boom in North Dakota, according to Backhaus, where many full-time job openings are available.
When all the driving positions are filled in District 206, there are a total of 62 drivers. They go through a background check conducted by the Minnesota State Department of Education, an initial drug test, and must carry a Class B license with a school bus endorsement, passenger endorsement, and have passed the air brake test. If all of those requirements are filled, they can then start the training with the school.
As for the training, it just takes a lot of paperwork and time.
“We have two guys who train the drivers,” Backhaus said. “It’s a 40- to 50-hour process that includes four written tests before they can start behind the wheel.” The behind-the-wheel training is followed by an additional driving test.
Another issue is that routes are constantly changing for drivers. When a new family moves into an area, things need to be rearranged, making it hard for new drivers to work into and figure out a route.
“We’re always very up front with families about pick up and drop off times,” Backhaus added. “The first two weeks they might change.”
While getting all the drivers trained and ready poses a problem in the fall, Backhaus said that the biggest issue is having enough busses and manpower in the spring when weather determines events.
“Spring gets us really backed up because so much has to do with weather,” she said. “Stuff would get bogged up and rescheduled and there just aren’t enough busses.”
When sporting events and other activities get rescheduled and land on the same date as other events, it’s hard to accommodate those needs and still run the normal bus routes.
“Everyone is doing all their field trips in the spring, too,” Backhaus added. “We can look into contracting other busses in the spring, but every other district in the area is doing the same thing.”
Despite all the obstacles that District 206 runs into with staffing the available busses they do have, Backhaus praised the bus drivers on staff, noting that they do a phenomenal job. 

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